In the team’s first seven games last year, the Cardinals defense stumbled out of gate, giving up 25.9 points per game. That, unsurprisingly, left them 1-6 and on the outside of the playoff picture. The defense seemed to have the pieces — Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson, etc — but they just hadn’t jelled yet.
Arizona went on a late-season run, though, winning seven of their last nine to finish the year at 8-8. Over those final nine games, the resurgent defense gave up only 16.3 points per game
The momentum has continued this season — Arizona’s defense is surrendering a league-best 13.3 points per game and is second in sacks (13).
So what gives?
All they needed, perhaps, was a little time. Because of last year’s lockout, Arizona had to expedite a complete defensive install. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton brought different schemes and verbage from Pittsburgh.
Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said that things began to click at midsea.
“Some guys, including myself, weren’t really all the way bought in to the defense early in the season,” Campbell said. “It was like, ‘I wish I was doing this. I want to do that.’ After we kept losing, it was like, ‘OK, let’s just buckle down and play it the way we’re supposed to, play it the way coach is teaching us and see what happens. We started having success and never looked back.”
A full offseason under Horton seems to have made the dangerous Cardinals defense even more comfortable. Through three weeks, that has translated into a more aggressive philosophy.
“Now, we can put a little bit more pressure on quarterbacks. Now, we don’t have a limited amount of plays up for the game plan; now, everything is up,” said Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals’ second-year cornerback and South Florida native. “It just comes with OTAs and mini-camp. (With) all that stuff, we had a chance to grow that chemistry, grow communications skills versus the secondary, the linebackers, and getting everybody set up.”
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